10 Steps to Plan for NaNoWriMo

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

October will soon come to a close and November will be upon us. That means it’s time to prepare for NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month.

This will be my first year taking the challenge. Instead of officially registering for the event on the NaNoWriMo website, I and my writing group are doing the challenge to get our in-progress novels completed by the end of November. (I’m about one-third of the way in on mine…)

Having intention is one thing, but we need to do more if we want to see success with a challenge of this magnitude. Planning is essential, and it paves the way for successful implementation.

So first, let’s look at the goal itself.

The NaNoWriMo challenge assumes approximately 50K words total. That equates to 1667 words per day (5 double-spaced pages / Times New Roman 12 pt font) or 69 words per hour.

Having these numbers in mind will help you begin to break down the task into manageable pieces.

Now, here are some tips to help you do that.

  • Plan—Take care of any business or obligations in your life that can be completed before November.
    • If you celebrate Thanksgiving and it’s traditionally your job to shop and cook, make your shopping list before November 1. When the day comes, enlist people to help you. (Do it!) And if you absolutely must miss writing on this day, decide where you’ll double up on another day—in advance—to stay on track.
    • If you have other special days to celebrate—an anniversary, a birthday—again, get your shopping done before November 1. If you need to mail packages, get them wrapped and ready before November 1. Mark the trip to your package delivery service on your calendar.
    • Create a Plan B. No matter how much we plan, people and situations beyond our control can interfere. If you have a solid Plan B in place for the days that go awry, they won’t throw a giant wrench in the works and will only derail you for a short time.
  • Schedule—Block out the times you’ll write on your calendar. (I’m a geek for calendars, so this is one of my favorite parts of preparing for projects.)
    • Determine which calendar works best for you: digital or analog. (I use a combination of both.)
    • Reserve blocks of writing time in your calendar. If you use digital, color code those blocks time with a color ONLY used for writing. If you use analog, use a highlighter to accentuate the blocks of time you’ve designated for writing.
  • Shift Your Mindset—Rather than think of the challenge as daunting, make it fun. Starting with a defeatist mindset from the get-go (or at all) will be a giant deterrent to successful completion.
    • Write down mantras. (“Writing is fun.” “This draft is only for me.” “Perfection is not necessary.” “My writing comes first.”) Or make up your own. Repeat them to yourself every time your mind drifts into defeatist territory.
    • Write a letter to the voices in your head. Let them know they are not welcome, at least, and especially, not for the month of November.
  • Commit—Treat your commitment to NaNoWriMo as you would a commitment to someone you care about very much. Make it a priority. Privilege it (at least in your thinking) above all else. Just for a month…
    • Clean and prepare your workspace. This will send a message to your brain that this is important, that you mean business, that it matters to you.
    • Enlist the help of family and friends. Tell the people in your life what you’ll be doing. Tell them how much it means to you. Ask for their help in the form of respecting the times you’ve set aside to write.

For more detailed and hands-on help, check out the first four COMPLIMENTARY modules of my Conjuring Clarity course, created to help you accomplish these first four steps.

Now, for the writing itself.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
  • Know your people—Make a list of your protagonist(s), antagonist(s), and supporting characters.
    • What traits and characteristics define who they are as people? Think big. Think small.
  • Know your people’s backstories—Knowing your characters’ histories will inform why they want what they want and why, as well as what obstacles they will face, both internal and external.
    • Where are they from? Where are they now?
    • What has happened to them in the past (especially their deepest wounds).
  • Know your milieu—Make detailed notes about your story world. Do research beforehand, as needed.
    • Where does your story take place? What are the characteristics of this place?
    • When does your story take place?
    • Do any special rules apply to your story world (as in fantasy, sci fi, or magical realism)?
  • Determine your opening scene and inciting incident—Having a clear starting place will go far to start you off with a smooth beginning.
    • What is your opening scene? How will you set the stage and engage the reader? What does the status quo life of your protagonist look like when the story begins?
    • What (inciting) incident or event will turn your protagonist’s world on its axis and set them on their journey?
  • Create an outline—While it’s true that we gain insight about characters and what they want and why as we write, having some kind of framework to focus on will help you keep moving forward with a tight deadline like this.
    • What is your protagonist’s deepest desire and why? (Hint: This is oftentimes connected with their wound from the past.)
    • Given your protagonist’s personality, how will they attempt to realize their desire?
    • Given what your antagonist wants, how will he/she/it interfere with your protagonist’s progress?
    • What’s your ending? This can be hard to know sometimes, but make a guess for now, then set up a series of events and/or key scenes that you know will be relevant to the storyline.
  • Relax, trust, and let go—Surrendering to the process, letting go of any preconceived ideas about the finished product will give you the creative space to see you through to November 30.
    • Think of this draft as an abstract painting. Put down what comes to you without feeling the need to edit as you write. (You can do that in December.) Use big, broad brushstrokes. Use tiny, finite brushstrokes.
    • Be willing to both stick to your outline and shift your course when new, surprising ideas show up. This is the give and take of the creative process.

Want to go even deeper with Steps 5-8? Check out the second four modules of the Conjuring Clarity course.

Want to go even deeper with Steps 5-8? Check out the second four modules of the Conjuring Clarity course.

Want to go even deeper with knowing your people by experiencing the magic of the Writing Through the Body™ method?

Check out the COMPLIMENTARY Intro to Writing Through the Body™ video.

Check out the entire Writing Through the Body™ course.

I hope these tips help. Please let me know, in the comments, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Then, come back after November 30 and let me know how it went.

And remember… ANY progress is good progress. We can do this!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!


So You Want to Write a Book: Do You Need a Book Content Developer, a Book Coach, or a Ghostwriter?

Photo credit: Kungliga biblioteket on Visualhunt.com

I meet a lot of people who tell me they want to write a book, and I get it. We all have stories and ideas that desperately want to find their way outside us and into the hearts and minds of others. When we feel this impulse, I believe it’s our life force wanting to express itself. And I believe that when we suppress that impulse, we harm ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

But do I think everyone ought to write a book? Not necessarily.

This may come as a surprise to those who know me and know what I do. For about two decades, I’ve been helping other people get their words on the page—first, for many years, with college students with whom I still work, and more recently in the past couple of years, with private coaching clients.

The first truth is this: Not everyone has the time or truly—deep in their soul—wants to make the time to write a book. They want to have a book with their name on it.

The second truth is this: not everyone is cut out for writing a book.

It takes an immense amount of resolve to build a writing practice from the ground up, let alone to maintain it. It also takes consistent time and effort to learn how to write. Everyone has a unique learning curve, and for some, it’s a tall order. There’s no shame in that!

Not having the time, not wanting to make the time, and not knowing how to write well are legitimate reasons for not writing. I do believe that most people can learn to write and write well, but the time and commitment it would take to get to that point and truly making just that phase of the process a primary focus in a life already filled to the brim with people, activities, and commitments is not reasonable for many people.

Photo by Giallo from Pexels

I’m a very DIY person. I like to learn everything about everything (this is also a symptom of being a writer.) But long ago, I embraced the reality that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to learn everything about everything and implement it all well.

I could learn how to do my own taxes. When I owned a car, I could have learned how to change the oil and the brakes. But I chose not to because I figured the money I spent hiring skilled professionals who can do these tasks well and quickly would, by far, override all the hours it would take me to learn how to do them, then feebly implement them many times over until I got it right.

It may sound like I’m discouraging you from writing your book. I’m not! I do believe we all have meaningful stories and brilliant ideas the world needs to experience and know about. I also believe that some people can write books and some people can’t. The reasons are many, and like I said before, there’s no shame in that. It’s a reality of life. (I can’t compose a song, cook an exquisite gourmet meal, or create a breathtaking sculpture from marble, either. I could decide that I want to focus all my energies in any one of these areas and likely make some decent headway, but I choose not to. I’d rather save my energetic and time bandwidths for other things. Life is only so long.)

So, how do we rectify this double bind of satisfying the impulse to write a book and, in some cases, not being able to? The first step is to get clear about how collaborative the project of writing a book is and then deciding—for your personal situation (lifestyle, life commitments, and budget)—when you need to reach out and hire an expert to help you.

To help you make informed decisions about the kind of help you might need to get a fully written book in hand, here’s a breakdown of the kind of help you can expect.

Some people have a big idea but feel clueless about where to begin. They need help parsing their big idea into smaller, more manageable, pieces and zeroing in on the theme, focus, and structure of the book. These people need a book content developer.

What working with a book content developer looks like in practice
When I help clients develop the content for their book, this usually consists of a focused chunk of time (half-day or full-day meeting)—a VIP Day. I walk them through a process to sort out their idea into manageable parts. We also determine a structure for the book, and we determine a timeline. The client walks away with a solid plan to get started and keep moving forward. Being motivated and honoring deadlines is up to them.

Hiring a content developer is a good option for focused self-starters who are on a mission. These people are good at setting a goal, staying focused, and not getting distracted by shiny objects along the way. They understand this is a period in their life they’re committing to, and they know they can do it.

(I also offer one-off, one-hour sessions for check-ins if/when needed after the content development meeting, so clients aren’t adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean alone.)

Some people need help staying focused and motivated and getting feedback along the way (after they’ve gotten help developing their content). They may also need help with the mechanics of writing. These people need a book coach.

What working with a book coach looks like in practice
When I serve as book coach to clients, we go through the book content development stage, then we stay connected. The length of time can vary, depending on the genre. The least time-consuming books (don’t misunderstand… all books are time-consuming) are non-fiction books that feature a method, process, or program created by an author, entrepreneur, or business owner. Memoirs can be open-ended, depending on how much perspective the author has about the life events they’re writing about. (Writing any book is emotionally transformative, and memoirs are highly so. Sometimes memoirists encounter surprise emotional blocks, which can slow down the writing.) Novels can be even more open-ended than memoirs (and just as emotionally transformative) because characters shift and change and/or the author has new insights along the way.

Hiring a book coach is a good option for those who need the support of knowing they have a person who is “expecting” pages from them on a monthly basis. This keeps them accountable and honoring deadlines. They also benefit from constructive feedback to help them re-set their sails along the way.

Some people want to get their stories and ideas onto the page, and the most important goal is to have a book with their name on it and/or to get their story or idea outside themselves. These people need a ghostwriter.

What working with a ghostwriter looks like in practice
Ghostwriting is a highly collaborative process wherein I conduct a series of interviews with the client and we stay in close contact throughout the writing of the book with chapter-by-chapter check-ins over a period of several months, the length depending on many factors. My goal is to truly know the client and how she experiences the world so I can write prose that matches her lived experience and her voice—so it sounds as if she wrote it. During the time we work together, I deliver one draft, she gives feedback, and I complete a full revision on the draft.

Hiring a ghostwriter is a good option for those who genuinely don’t have time or don’t want to make the time to write. They have gotten honest with themselves about the viability of staying the course and putting in the effort required to learn to write well so they can produce a quality book. They have weighed the money and time investments and know that having a book with their name on it is the most important goal. They don’t need or want to learn the process of writing a book.

Why many people are still compelled to write their own book
The reality is that none of these avenues I mention above is free. A VIP Day (book content development) is the most affordable of the three, with coaching next, and ghostwriting the costliest. For some people, the financial investment prevents them from hiring a professional to help them ensure they start off well and stay the course.

Also, opening your life up to another person, sharing your stories and ideas, and turning over your voice to them requires immense trust. It’s a leap of faith, and for some, it feels “easier” and “safer” to go it alone.

I understand the impulse to write a book, to let your voice be heard, to have a legacy to leave behind, even if it’s solely for your family. In fact, I do what I do because I believe the practice of sharing meaningful stories and brilliant ideas can create change and heal the world.

For this reason, I do what I can to provide help and encouragement to people who want to—or feel they have to—go it “alone.” My Conjuring Clarity course offers all the essentials you need to get your book started so you can make progress. Part 1 (always COMPLIMENTARY) walks you through the planning and scheduling stages. It also helps you examine your writing mindset and walks you through a commitment process—all phases I take my clients through. Part 2 gets into the nitty gritty of setting the foundation for your book and getting started with a clear focus in mind.

If you’re ready to begin, learn more about the Conjuring Clarity course here. Get Part 1 at no cost and see what it does for you before you invest in Part 2 (which is very affordable—because I sincerely want to help you with your book!)

No matter the route you choose, as always… I’m sending you mad writing mojo.

Happy writing!


Please leave a comment below… what do you most need help with to get your book started or keep it moving forward?


Getting to Know Your People’s Histories: Using Backstory to Inform Character Development

In my last post, I wrote about the importance—necessity, even—of knowing your people… that is, your characters (for fiction and memoir) and your Ideal Reader, and yourself, (for non-fiction how-to self-help books).


After we delve into who our characters and Ideal Readers are, we can get to know them even more deeply through their backstories—or histories. These histories are what shaped their beliefs and identities. (This is true also for those wanting to write the self-help or how-to non-fiction book and will apply to you, personally, as well because your personal story—the life events that brought you to write your book in the first place—will likely be woven throughout your book.) Through these beliefs and identities shaped from our characters’ backstories come their desires.

When we understand, on a deep level, our people’s heart-felt desires, we can develop compassion for those desires, and embrace the motivations behind them and the behaviors that prevent our people from attaining them. This will not only inform our story trajectories in fiction, it will also inform a deeper understanding of ourselves in memoir and the true pain points of our clients and potential customers and readers in non-fiction books.

Another facet of a character’s backstory we want to think about is setting. Setting is both temporal and spatial.

Temporal Setting

The temporal setting of a book or story is the era in which it takes place. The temporal setting of your characters’ backstories is important because it will inform much about your characters’ beliefs, social mores, and behaviors. Think about a teenage girl born in the 1950s and one born in the 2000s. They will be two very different people simply because of the time in which they were born. Now, place one of those girls in the U.S. and one in the UK or Africa or Asia during each of those times periods. You’ll have five distinctly different people.

When we can get clear on the temporal setting of our characters’ backstories, we can start to think more deeply about the WHYs behind their desires, motivations, and behaviors, and we can not only have a deeper understanding of them as people, but we can also represent them with more integrity and compassion on the page.

Spatial Setting

Spatial setting includes spaces and locations that figured into the shaping of the character’s identity because spaces shape who we are. Think about your own significant spaces and locations: your childhood home, your bedroom, your family’s kitchen, your school, your backyard, your school bus, your family’s car(s)… Now, think about how those spaces shaped your identity, what you care about, what you want, and what you don’t want. The same is true of our characters.

A young man raised on a farm will come to his college experience with a far different set of beliefs and desires than one raised in Manhattan. Think about how each of these characters might show up to an accounting class or a writing class and what their expectations, intentions, and fears might be. When we put together our characters’ pasts with their present-day fears, we’re writing from a place that will generate stories of universal appeal because we can get to the emotional experience of life. And no matter where we were raised or when, we all experience emotions the same. This is the bridge between us and our readers.

Characters’ backstories may not show up in the stories we write about them, but knowing and understanding them will inform us and influence the stories we write about them.


Write 2-3 pages for one of your characters, your Ideal Reader, or yourself giving deep thought to their backstories and settings, and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about what you discover.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!



Planning for the magic: don’t wait for inspiration to write your book!

Conjuring Clarity

I meet SO many people who want to write a book, and as I always say during my talks about writing and in my own writing, when we have the impulse to write a book, or to undertake any creative endeavor, it’s our life force wanting to breathe, expand, and express itself. This is how we thrive.

To stifle it and hold it inside, I believe, harms us. It affects our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, which, in turn, affects those around us.

Can you imagine a world where people have the time and space to creatively express themselves? I can… that’s why I’m so passionate about helping people write.

I use the word “magic” a lot when I talk and write about the writing process. The magic doesn’t just happen, though… we have to create the space to allow it to happen. The magic happens AFTER we start getting words on the page.

After working with private clients for awhile now, I’ve discovered that there are some steps we need to address before the work can begin.

The first two are planning and scheduling. 

Planning is taking a big, broad, comprehensive look at our lives and anticipating what might interfere with our progress. In my Conjuring Clarity course, we project and imagine blocks and obstacles BEFORE they happen, and we create solutions to head them off at the pass. Sometimes this requires changing habits and negotiating – even letting go of – behaviors that have become unwittingly routine but do nothing to help us achieve our goal.

Scheduling is simply the act of carving out the time and putting it on a calendar. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s an art to calendaring, and I’m always working to refine my approach. In Conjuring Clarity we also talk about which kind of scheduling and calendaring are best for you (digital, analog, or a combination of both) and how to find a system the will actually help you accomplish your goals.

I use both digital and analog calendaring.
  • Google Calendar for ALL my appointments and meetings – even those with myself (because I look at it every day, and it sends me reminders and syncs with my phone)
  • An analog planner for a monthly and weekly breakdown of my appointments (because I can write notes to myself there, and when I write something by hand, I remember it – science has proven this again and again)
  • A digital list-making system for detailed daily planning – Notes or Stickies apps – both are free and sync with my phone (because I organize my days in two-hour chunks of time, and these give me an unlimited amount of space for this)

Honestly, I get giddy when I get a new planner – filling up all that empty space with possibilities fuels my urge to bring my ideas to fruition and almost always guarantees I’ll follow through. (It’s also a fun, relaxing task I can do while I watch TV.) I love breaking my big-picture visions down into manageable steps and tasks. And in the first two modules of Conjuring Clarity, this is exactly what we do.

With this in mind, I have a few planners I want to recommend* because as we get closer to 2020, I’m guessing many of you will be setting intentions to start and/or complete projects that matter to you.


Good Busy Planner offers weekly, monthly, and quarterly
layouts for different views of your goals. There’s also space to discover and assess goals, as well as a really cool mind map
type system for creating action plans.



Passion Planner made its debut in 2012 when Angelia Trinidad finished grad school and had no idea how to move on to the next phase of life. Passion Planner was her remedy, and it’s evolved into a phenomenon and a community. It has a simple, polished aesthetic and comes in a variety of sizes and colors, both dated and undated. It’s packed with pages and spaces to envision and dream, plan, reflect, and distill tasks. Learn more about the Passion Planner movement here.


This Bullet Dot Journal by Vivid Scribbles is excellent for creatives who prefer a list-making approach to planning and scheduling with an artistic flair. If you like journaling and doodling, this is likely a good one for you.



And here’s the one I bought… by Frasukis. The price was right, and I like its simplicity, its generous two-page monthly and yearly layouts, and its blank pages in the back for my manic note taking. Its ample yet thin. And its blue. 🙂



*I receive no discount, kickback, or benefit by recommending these planners.

Let’s allow the magic to happen.

What and how are you planning for 2020?

I’m sending you mad writing mojo…Happy writing,


Author Interview – Valerie J. Brooks

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
I had no idea that I would write noir. I loved film noir and had taken a college course to study the form. But on a 2015 trip to Paris with my husband, during Christmas and New Years, the area around the 15th arrondissement caught my imagination. It was a month after the Bataclan terrorist attacks, and ten thousand soldiers were on Paris streets. Some of the soldiers were so young, they had pimples. Homeless Muslim women prostrated themselves on the cold cement of the Champs-Elysées, holding out begging bowls, while the avenue’s trees twinkled with tiny clear lights. The juxtapositions were everywhere. As I do on most of trips, I kept receipts, brochures, menus. I took photos of every place I went, especially of small details. I wrote in a journal. Back home in Oregon, I dug up a story I’d written many years before about an anniversary weekend Dan and I spent in Portland, Oregon. I’d fictionalized it a bit to create a noir story for a travel magazine that was never published. I guess in my personal zeitgeist, I was drawn to the dark. Hell, I’d grown up in New England with ghosts, the gothic, and secrets. Everyone hid behind a veil of perception.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
I don’t remember encountering any obstacles. I’m sure I did, but I loved writing the stories. Maybe that was my obstacle—writing a novel as three separate stories that were linked. After publishing them in succession as e-books, I had to market them individually, too, and that was so much work! I don’t regret doing it this way. When the three were complete, I laced them together, and voila! A noir novel.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
I found my voice. Noir comes naturally to me. Noir also reflects the dark times we live in, and I was able to slip in some of my politics. In fact, I’ve renamed this generation of noir. In the 40-50s it was called simply noir. In the 60s-90s, neo-noir. This new noir I call femmes noir. In the older noir, women were either hungry, man-eating females or needy victims. I turned that trope on its head—without making the woman psychotic or sociopathic. I want my women to be like the women I know—strong, gutsy, intelligent, and playing on the right side, although they have lots of baggage caused from bad choices and societal influences. That sends them down the noir sink hole. The women also do things I’d never do. Like murder. It’s fiction. What can I say? They are badasses, and I cheer for them.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I’ve been the traditional publishing route for over twenty years. Three literary novels, three fabulous, hard-working NYC agents. Nada. I came damn close, one time being told they already had a novel like mine, which of course they didn’t. I know the one they were comparing my novel to, and I laughed. But after that long time of schlepping the manuscript, sometimes not even getting the decency of a form letter, I said, “Not this time.” So I researched the indie publishing route. It’s not easy. Steep learning curves, lots of time spent comparing, making mistakes, begging for help. But I knew I could do it. Now for the first time, I have a paperback novel, and I’m so proud of it.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
Oh, gads, yes! I can’t tell you how many of my friends are writers—or artists, musicians, creative folk. I’m totally in my element. My best friend, Jan Eliot, is a cartoonist. I’ve been on the board of Eugene Ballet and Oregon Writers Colony. I co-founded the Willamette Writers Speakers Series. I was an advisor for Artists in Schools. I market a poet. I’ve taught workshops on writing and the writing life. I have a writing group that’s met for almost twenty years. I’ve been to five artists residencies where I’ve made writer friends. Other writers are the only people who truly understand us, and we raise each other up. I’m rich with writer friends.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
No. It’s the most irregular thing I do. I’ve tried, but sometimes, I’m just floating around, taking in the world, listening to radio, like a squirrel stashing nuts; it’s all there for consuming when I need it. When I do write, I write like crazy.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
I have the second femmes-noir in the Angeline Porter Series in the works, tentatively titled Tainted 2 Times, plus I’ve been working on a memoir about my early years in the wild rural west of Oregon titled Vida Flats.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
Both writing and dancing are spiritual practices for me. I can’t explain it, but I find both for me are like meditation. When I write at Colonyhouse in Rockaway Beach for a week (Oregon Writers Colony’s members’ residency), I dance on the beach, I immerse in my writing, each a way to reach a different plane, a higher level of awareness and soul-searching.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
I have no idea. I can’t imagine my life without writing or creating art or finding a passion in some creative outlet. My mom kept a scrap of paper of when I was four or five where I did a crayon drawing of the neighbor’s house. When I was ten or eleven, I set up my brother’s plastic cowboys and Indians in the backyard with teepees I made. I had a story in my head then got down on the ground and took photographs of the tableau. In high school, I sold paintings in a gallery show, performed in the school’s theater productions, was art editor of the yearbook, and wrote for the school newspaper. In college I was art editor then editor of the literary arts magazine. After I arrived in Oregon, I sold work at the Saturday Market and did art for the local newspaper. I can’t imagine my life without some form of creativity. It just wouldn’t happen.

Why do you write?
Because I have to.

You can read more about Val’s new novel Revenge in 3 Parts and her blog at http://www.valeriejbrooks.com. Order it on all platforms and buy in indie stores. 

Read this recent article about Val in the Register-Guard.